By Mary Thurwachter

Lantana welcomed its first assistant police chief — Thomas Mitchell — in October. But Mitchell is no stranger to the seaside town of 12,000 residents. He has been the Police Department’s commander for four years.

12281627486?profile=RESIZE_180x180Chief Sean Scheller introduced his second-in-command during the Oct. 9 Town Council meeting.

“This is long overdue,” Scheller said, acknowledging the community’s and the department’s growth.

Mitchell, 59, said Lantana “is a fabulous town to work for” and one he has felt a bond with ever since 2004, when Hurricane Charley destroyed his parents’ home in Port Charlotte on the Gulf Coast.

“The Lantana Police Department was deployed over to assist with policing services in Charlotte County,” Mitchell recalled. “At that time, Sgt. Jeff Tyson” — later Lantana’s police chief — “knew my parents lived over there and every morning he would go by and check on them.”

When Mitchell finally convinced his parents “to come back to my house for a little while,” Tyson “would go and make sure the house wasn’t being pillaged. Everybody there who worked for Lantana would go by and my mother would make them coffee in the morning when we were able to get a generator there. I never forgot that.”

Besides that connection, Mitchell said he and Scheller knew each other as detectives. Scheller worked for Lantana and Mitchell was with Delray Beach, where he worked for 27 years, including during Hurricane Charley.

“We’d come across each other and formed a fantastic professional relationship,” Mitchell said. “When this opportunity came about when Commander [Robert] Hagerty retired, there was no way I could say no.

“Lantana’s got a lot of talent,” he said of the department. “There’s so much growth opportunity in the town, and with that said there’s going to be so much growth opportunity for the Police Department. I’m looking forward to helping.”

The new position was needed for several reasons, Scheller said. Among them are: increased staffing over the years requiring additional supervision and mentorship; extensive projects and technological advances requiring oversight and policy development; succession planning within the Police Department; and providing opportunity for middle management advancement for current staff within the department.

Mitchell will oversee the department’s day-to-day activities, allowing Scheller more time to spend in the community.

Mitchell recently handled the new radio implementation program.

“We outfitted all the new patrol cars with new recording cameras as well as license plate cameras,” he said. “Obviously, Sean oversees everything. And we have an outstanding relationship. We keep in touch with each other continuously. I will not make a decision that’s going to make him look bad. He knows exactly what I’m up to every day. And he has input on everything. The five sergeants answer directly to me until we’re able to bring in another commander.”

Mitchell’s annual salary is $140,000 and benefit costs are approximately $61,700 (e.g., FICA, pension, health insurance), according to Finance Director Stephen Kaplan.

“However, we anticipate saving $40,000 as we promote other officers up through the ranks as we fill the vacancies,” Kaplan said.

Prior to his promotion, Mitchell made $131,019 with approximately $62,460 in benefit costs.

It’s likely that his replacement as commander will be someone who already works in the department, Mitchell said.

Vice Mayor Lynn “Doc” Moorhouse, attending the meeting via phone, praised Scheller for his choice in assistant chief.

“I know he’s bringing people through the ranks, as he should,” Moorhouse said. “We have the best Police Department.”

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